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Pasco deputy fired after professing love to 13-year-old, Sheriff's Office says

NEW PORT RICHEY — The school resource officer at River Ridge Middle School pulled a student out of class Wednesday and took her to an office where they were alone.

Sitting across a desk from the 13-year-old girl, authorities say, Cpl. Christopher Magavero declared: "I feel like I'm falling in love with you."

The girl, an eighth-grader, became distraught and told a guidance counselor, who contacted the authorities.

Later Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office said, Magavero acknowledged making the statement and Sheriff Bob White fired him, citing conduct unbecoming an officer.

"We're talking about children here, the safety of children, and this behavior is completely unacceptable," sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. "The sheriff felt strongly and pushed for termination."

The Sheriff's Office is now conducting a criminal investigation to make sure nothing more occurred between Magavero, 42, and the girl.

"We have no evidence that anything physical took place, no evidence that a crime occurred at this point," Tobin said. "But the deputy certainly committed an incredible error in judgment."

He credited the girl for how she handled the situation.

"The young girl did everything right," Tobin said. "She handled it in a really amazing way, composed way by going to a trusted person. She didn't delay."

The criminal inquiry will be followed by an internal investigation, Tobin said, to see if any other such incidents occurred. Investigators plan to interview other students and examine Magavero's computers.

Reached by phone Thursday, Magavero declined to comment.

He joined the Sheriff's Office in 2000 and became a school resource officer in 2004.

His personnel file contains no history of questionable behavior. On the contrary, it's filled with letters from White and community members commending Magavero for his good work.

His latest evaluation from August lauds his "professional and calming demeanor, which enhances his effectiveness as a school resource officer and as a deputy sheriff."

Before joining the Sheriff's Office, Magavero taught social studies at Gulf High School. He has bachelor's degrees from the University of South Florida in mass communications and education.

In his application to the Sheriff's Office, he said he wanted to leave teaching to pursue a career in law enforcement, a profession he always revered.

River Ridge Middle principal Jason Joens sent a letter home with students Thursday, notifying parents of what happened. He called the situation unfortunate and said it had an effect on some students but most probably were unaware.

"Based upon my observations of our SRO, I always found him to be engaged in appropriate lessons and activities with students," Joens said.

He said Magavero was involved in such programs as Students Against Destructive Decisions and Paint Pasco Clean. He helped with the school's anti-bullying and traffic safety programs.

Lizette Alexander, director of student services for Pasco schools, says they have offered assistance to both the girl who was approached and Magavero's family. His wife is a teacher in the district, and they have a daughter in ninth grade as well as an older daughter.

The school district made counselors and social workers available for River Ridge Middle, in case employees or other students needed guidance.

"I think they're victims at all levels," Alexander said.

Magavero earned about $49,000 a year. He will lose his accrued sick and vacation time, Tobin said, but not his state pension unless he is convicted of a crime. He has three days to appeal the firing.

"He pretty much signed off on his own fate through his statements," Tobin said.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco deputy fired after professing love to 13-year-old, Sheriff's Office says 10/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 5:13pm]
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